The blowouts that have mostly marked the NFL playoffs continued yesterday on Championship Sunday. With eight of the ten games played thus far having been non-competitive this postseason is shaping up to be an American carnage, if I might borrow a phrase.
I found Green Bay’s showing in Atlanta particularly egregious, given the Packers were basically blown out of the game from the outset. Pittsburgh at least was competitive into the third quarter before New England pulled away.
So with the focus on the Packers’ hideous showing in a 44-21 loss where they didn’t score at all until the game was well out of reach, I went back into the annals of conference championship games to see where this ranked in terms of utter embarrassments at this round of play. The most that can be said for Green Bay’s performance was this—it wasn’t the most awful ever put on in a conference championship game.
We’re looking for a special kind of blowout here—one that pretty much gets away at the outset, and is all but put away by halftime. We’re also targeting a game where the losing team could have been reasonably expected to win. For example, the 1991 NFC Championship Game between the Lions and Redskins was a 41-10 blowout for Washington. But Detroit is off the hook because that Redskins team was all-time great and even in the moment, no one expected the Lions to compete.
In that same vein, we can let the Houston Oilers off the hook for their ugly 34-5 loss to the Steel Curtain in 1978. Or the 1983 Seattle Seahawks, who had already knocked off John Elway and upset Dan Marino in consecutive weeks before finally crashing to earth against a potent Los Angeles Raiders team. I’ll drop a couple other names, like the 1989 NFC (Rams taking a 30-3 beating from a great 49ers team) or 1984 (undermanned Steelers lit up by Marino in his MVP year). You can fill in more than a few others.
There are three games that stand out though. Or maybe I should say two games that stand out, and one that stands alone on top. Following the 1990 season, the Los Angeles Raiders went to Buffalo. The Raiders were not expected to win, but to call a 51-3 thrashing at the hands of Jim Kelly understates how surprising that result was. For sheer margin of defeat—the worst ever in a conference championship game, the 1990 Los Angeles Raiders have a place in the history books.
The Minnesota Vikings know something about painful losses in conference championship games. They lost the most excruciating one ever in 1998 and had another loss in 2009 that was almost as bad. But those were bad from the perspective of heartbreak. In 2000, the Vikes went to other end of the spectrum and laid a complete egg in the Meadowlands against the New York Giants. Minnesota lost 41-0 in a game they were actually a one-point road favorite.
Green Bay’s loss in Atlanta deserves to be grouped with those two games, from 1991 and 2000. I’d probably rank it as less embarrassing than either two, but in the same ballpark.
What all of the games mentioned so far have in common is that the road team lost. There’s only one instance where a team came out on its homefield and laid such an egg that it needs to be in the list. With that, let’s turn back the clock to 1975 when the Los Angeles Rams hosted the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas was a young team, considered a year or two away from being Super Bowl-ready. In fact, they peaked in 1977 with a championship. Los Angeles had been consistently knocking at the door of the Super Bowl, but not quite able to break it down. This game was supposed to be their moment, especially after the Cowboys upset the favored Minnesota Vikings and cleared the path for the Rams.
Instead, Los Angeles put on an incredible display of ineptitude. They rushed for only 22 yards on the game and were in a 21-0 hole by halftime. They didn’t get on the board until the score was 34-0 and it ended 37-7.
From the perspective of history it gets even worse when you consider than in 1978, these same two teams again played an NFC Championship Game at the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Rams were again taken to the woodshed. This time the score was 28-0. That game, standing by itself, wouldn’t make the list because it was scoreless at the half and still a close 7-0 game going into the fourth quarter. But put it together with 1975 and you have Los Angeles losing two NFC title games to the same team, at home, by a combined score of 75-7.
That’s embarrassing. And looking back at that, with a special emphasis on the 1975 NFC Championship Game, the most I can say to Green Bay fans is this—you weren’t that bad on Sunday in the Georgia Dome.